Thursday, March 30, 2017

Here Comes The Bride!

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DW has taken to calling him The California Kid. Kevin Harvick claims he's the best young driver since Jeff Gordon. I personally think that it's jumping the gun to leap-frog Kyle Larson over Jimmie Johnson, 7-time champion, on the strength of his career so far, as promising as it appears to be, but I won't quarrel with the general idea of his superior skill behind the wheel.

I've had my eye on Kyle ever since he appeared on the scene. He took my fancy even before he came to Cup and I told everyone - "watch Larson, he's a comer". I've always had him pegged as my Number One driver whenever Jimmie retires. I really, really like Chase Elliott but I root just a little bit harder for Kyle because my heart is always with the underdog. I tend to have a special fondness for the drivers who had to scratch and claw their way to the top series versus those who had a glide path to success, thanks to being NASCAR royalty. That's not to say that glide path is a sure thing. You still have to have the talent to go with it but let's face it - being intimately familiar with the tracks and the players and the terms since you were a child can't help but be an advantage. Having parents who can and will sponsor you is a helluva head start. And anyone has to admit that Ganassi, while a good team, is a far cry from being handed Jeff Gordon's very car by Rick Hendrick. More power to those who inherited that head start but there's no question that it was harder for the boys who came from nowhere - like Jimmie and Kevin and....Kyle.

Larson's parents told him from the beginning that they would do what they could but they didn't have the money to ensure him a ride. If he got to where he wanted to go, he was going to have to to it on talent and determination. He made the transition from Sprint cars to NASCAR with hardly a stumble.

This week had to be vindication for him. The pay-off for all the sacrifices his parents had made. The
validation of Chip Ganassi's belief in him. He said in Victory Lane that he'd heard and read all the remarks that had been made - "yeah, three seconds in a row but does the kid know how to win?"

He proved that he know how to win, coming home first in both the Xfinity race and the Monster Cup race. Yes, it was a good week to be Kyle Larson....and a Kyle Larson fan.

Oh, my, all the anti-Jimmie people were out in force on the boards this week. Did you hear what he and Chad did? Having wrecked their primary car, they chose to take the time to work on the back up, rather than making a qualifying run. Chad said he didn't want to send Jimmie out there for a hot lap in a car that hadn't ever been on the track. But conspiracy-minded fans knew that wasn't the real reason. The real reason was that it meant Jimmie could start the race on new tires. Ha!Ha! The Devious Duo might try to fool some people but we're too smart for them! (Of course, by playing it that way, it also meant that the 48 didn't get to have any say in their pit stall selection which might be seen as as much of a disadvantage as new tires were an advantage). Lots of folks thought NASCAR should have punished them - fined them or booted them from the race or I don't know, maybe hung them from the leaderboard as an example to other would-be cheaters.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Another Bridesmaid's Bouquet

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That was the most fun race of the year so far in my opinion. There were lead changes and passes and lots of hard racing back in the pack and a perfect slide job (Chase)  and in the end, it was a gutty strategy call that won the race. Ryan Newman broke a 127-race losing streak when Luke Lambert kept him out on old tires. He got a good restart, held off his pursuers and brought it home for the checkered flag.

Ryan isn't one of my most favorite drivers but I always like to see someone who has struggled end up in Victory Lane. Same with Richard Childress Racing, who had gone almost as long. Even if Newman isn't one of my top drivers, I admire him as a person because of the farm he maintains to rescue animals. I know all the drivers have foundations but the Rescue Ranch is personal for Ryan. He puts his heart and soul and his own hands into it. So, good on you Ryan and your crew chief too for whom Phoenix was his first Cup win.

Once again, Kyle Larson came in second - for the third time in a row. I know he wants to win and I want him to but he has the points lead and that ain't too shabby. You can't get that many second place finishes without catching a break that results in a win soon.

I know I write about "the kids" every week but that's because they are doing such a terrific job - Kyle, Chase, Ryan and now lets add Erik Jones to that list too. (I think Suarez will be coming along as he gets a little more experience too.)

The hard feelings between Kyle B and Joey appear to be over, at least for now. Of course, they weren't close on the track during most of the race. I expect Coach might have had a little "come to Jesus" meeting with Kyle to settle him down but on the other hand, Joe understands temperamental athletes so it was probably a relatively low-key sermon.

Jimmie finally at least finished in the top ten. Junior's run of bad luck continued. Chase is definitely the star in the Hendrick stable right now. That probably won't last. I expect the others to join him but that's the way it is now.

So far, in 2017, the manufacturers are fairly close to parity. Ford leads with 146 points. Chevy is only two points behind with 144 and Toyota has 137, 9 points behind the leader. I like to see all the manufacturers being competitive. I worry that they'll get discourage and bail on NASCAR if they fall too far behind. Having said that, I wish Dodge would come back. I miss them. They have more of a muscle car image than any of the others, at least, for someone my age.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Boys Are Back In Town

Image result for nascar las vegas 2017            Image result for nascar las vegas Kyle Busch Joey Logano fight 2017

Congratulations to Martin Truex, Jr. and Furniture Row Racing. I was happy to see them win the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas. That team started their take off to the top tier with Kurt Busch behind the wheel and they are continuing to rise with Truex. It's nice to see that happen with what was a one-car, Colorado-based team until this year when Erik Jones joined them. I think that pairing will only make them stronger.

Okay, I've said all that and I sincerely mean it but my preference is for races that are not dominated by one team as last week was by Kevin Harvick and this week was by Martin. They are just not as much fun to watch as when several teams are roughly on par and battle back and forth for the lead.

So far in 2017, it is the kids who have provided the most excitement - Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. They all have good cars. They are all fast learners. They are all daring, taking chances more experienced drivers might not take. And it is paying off for them in a big way. Kyle Larson is second in the point standings, only 1 point behind Keselowski. Chase Elliott is third and Ryan Blaney is sixth. I will be thrilled to see any of them win here shortly and I definitely expect that to happen.

I don't want any of our current drivers to retire anytime soon but several of them, including Jimmie, Junior, Kenseth, are in their 40's. It's good to know we have the high caliber of drivers coming up to take their places as we do.

Of course, The Fight, dominated the NASCAR news. NASCAR can never seem to get it's shit together when it comes to "Boys, have at it". In some ways, they seem to encourage it (for instance, I'm sure Kyle with a bloody face will be featured in NASCAR's future ads). In other instances, they are discouraging about fisticuffs. I expect there will be a bit of a p.c. lecture about sportsmanship and that will be the end of it.

It didn't seem like anyone's fault to me although I will say that so often when these things happen, it is Joey Logano who is the spinner. Is that just aggressive driving? Is it inconsiderate driving. He may not do it purposely but he doesn't seem to go out of his way to avoid those situations either. Kyle definitely took offense and I can't say as I blame him.

I don't mind seeing competitors let their tempers get the best of them. I think fans like it and no one ever seems to get badly hurt. I'm almost inclined to think the teams should stay out of it and let their drivers duke it out but I suppose NASCAR has to at least pretend to disapprove even if they really don't.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Speed Trap!

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Well, the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 in Atlanta was a kind of a boring race unless you're a gung ho Kevin Harvick fan, which I'm not although, I like him well enough. If you are a gung ho Kevin Harvick fan, I expect it was rather heartbreaking. I actually wanted to see Kevin win. I always want the driver who dominates an entire race to win. It just doesn't seem fair when car and driver perform superbly all race long and then lose at the very last, especially over a speeding penalty. Of course, it happens quite a bit. I imagine Kevin could have kicked himself in the butt when he was nailed on pit road, something that was totally on him.

He wasn't the only one who got caught by the speeding police. Jimmie got two, TWO, speeding tickets. I knew he was in trouble after the first one and figured he was sunk after the second one and then to top it off, they pitted when they weren't supposed to pit. I expect Jimmie and Chad both wanted to kick themselves in the butt too!

Altogether there were 13 penalties in the speed trap that was pit road in Atlanta. That's a lot of results possibly bollixed up by speeding.

Once again, the kids gave the race its most exciting moments, for me at least. I still think Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott are our superstars of tomorrow. Chase looked like he might be going to pull it off but he was also bitten by the speeding bug. Then Larson looked like he might have it but he just couldn't quite hold off Keselowski.

I have a friend who was a monster Mark Martin fan and in fact, quit watching NASCAR when Mark retired. In the last few years, I've got him interested in the sport again. He asked for recommendations on who he should take on as his driver and I suggested Larson. Now he's as fired up about Kyle L as he used to be about Mark.

It's time for him to get over that 2nd place hump and start converting those second place finishes into wins.

Brad had to face some adversity himself to claim the checkered flag. That team always seems to have themselves in position when the chips are down and opportunity rears its head but Atlanta played the spoiler for several of the good teams - Kyle Busch, Dale Jr, Jimmie, Denny Hamlin.

I like seeing Ford win the first two races of the season even though I'm normally a Chevy fan. Except for Brad and Joey, it was sad to see them down in the dumps for so long. Now if only Jack Roush can get his guys on par with the others. Hendrick hasn't set the world on fire but the potential appears to be there. The JGR Toyotas are sucking hind tit so far this season but it's only two races in and I imagine that will change. That's what makes NASCAR so fun. You can be riding high in April and shot down in May....or vice versa.

As for the sections, I have not got into it. I pay attention to what the announcers say but I just can't get stoked about what's going on a third of the way through the race.

So, Atlanta wasn't the most thrilling race but it has its moments. They aren't all going to be suspenseful every moment. No sport can promise that. It's the totality of the colors and the personalities, the crashes and the competition, the ups and downs that I love.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Daytona - Crashes and Crunches Come In Bunches

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Well, geez, I think I may quit rooting for anyone because obviously, my support is the kiss of death! I started cheering for Jimmie and Junior. Boom! They both went out. I got behind Danica. Out. I would have been happy with Martin Truex, Jr. Out. I watched Kyle Larson leading a lot of laps with my fingers crossed. Out....of gas. I watched Chase Elliott almost pull it off at the last until...out of gas.

So, one by one, all my favorites faltered but, having said that, I was pretty all right with Kurt Busch winning. I'm sure it was the second biggest thrill of his life (after his championship) to win the Daytona 500 after coming in 2nd twice. And being able to give this much-sought-after prize - a trophy from The Great American Race - to his owners, Tony Stewart (who could never pull off a 500 win himself) and Gene Haas, and incidentally, a very nice gift for his brand new bride as well. And, honestly, I don't think I've ever seen anyone as ecstatic over a win as Tony Gibson was. I truly thought he might have a heart attack and die of pure joy. I was so glad for him, I wanted to give him a hug!

I don't think NASCAR's new rules had anything to do with all three series races resulting in crash fests. Races have their own personalities from year to year and further, I think the mood of the culture bleeds into sports, films and music. The country is in a hair-trigger mood right now and that shows itself across all these venues. Drivers are edgier and so are fans. Donald Trump thinks America in 2017 is all about carnage and we certainly saw that play out on the track.

And since we dipped a bit of a toe into politics, I have to say I'm proud of Junior for standing up for immigrants, tweeting that his own forebears were immigrants from Germany looking for peace and prosperity in America and that it was immigrants of all colors and ethnic origins who'd made America what it is. I'm not sure that's the accepted position among Dale's "base". He could have just kept his mouth shut but he didn't. Kudos to him for going out on that limb.

He looked at good as ever on the track but I sure hated to see him in a wreck. I think I will be nervous every time now. Maybe I'm starting to think like Richard Petty...that he'd be smarter to take the money and run.

I bet the folks at Ford were happy campers this week. The 2 and the 22 have excelled in the last few years but with only two really competitive teams, it was hard to match the power of all those Chevy and Toyota cars. Now, it looks like the Stewart-Haas bunch have come back without missing a beat and there is going to be more parity between the manufacturers. (Speaking of manufacturers, I wish Dodge would return - their cars were so appealing - but they'd almost have to start all over building teams at this point).

I love the Daytona 500 because it is the first real race of the year but I've said many times that restrictor plate racing is not my favorite kind. I don't like the teams sticking together like love bugs. I don't like my guy getting stuck in a line that goes nowhere with no way to escape.

So, I'll be happy to get back to every-man-for-himself racing at Atlanta.